The draft is a critical part of the NBA, a true make or break time that every team looks forward to. If you’re lucky, you can nab a Jordan, James or Bryant. If you’re unlucky, you’re saddled with some guys who don’t have what it takes to cut it in the NBA. The league is still smarting from the decision to grab kids straight out of high school, the vast majority of whom showed they had no chance of handling the big leagues. But even guys who were great in college fail to live up to that potential while some guys who went lower end up being mega-stars.
Every team has that bad pick, the one guy who stands above the rest for the wrong reasons. The guy who should have been a great player but failed. Sometimes, they can try but not live up to the promise they had. Other times, they’re just totally terrible and not working out at all. There have been slews of picks, no team is immune yet some just rank higher than others. Here is every NBA team’s most disappointing draft pick and showcasing how much of a risk the draft is in that you can get a dud just as much as a star. It's not necessarily the worst player the team selected, but it is the pick the crashed well below the expectations placed on them.
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30 Atlanta Hawks: Jon Koncak
In 1985, Dominique Wilkins would have a great season, averaging 30 points a game. His run would aid the Hawks and might have helped them to a playoff run had he gotten good backup behind him. Sadly, he couldn’t as Atlanta had wasted so much on Koncak. While talented, the seven-foot tall player was basically put into a reserve role despite a $13 million deal. The fifth overall pick in 1985, Koncak provided nothing of value to Atlanta.
That was more than what was being paid at the time to either Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, insane given how he was barely used. Because of that money for him, the Hawks couldn’t take part in the free agency of the time and thus missed the chance to sign some guys who could have aided Wilkins in turning the team into a championship one. The man’s name would be known as “John Contract” and a famous bit of his name spelled wrong on his jersey, summing up his entire NBA career.
29 Boston Celtics: Kedrick Brown
Some might cite Antoine Walker as the choice to pick him caused the Celtics to miss Kobe Bryant. But Walker did help the team rebound in the 2000s, so citing him as a massive bust isn’t fair. However, Brown had little real success. Taken at no.11 in the 2001 draft, Brown averaged barely 2 points a game, a combined 34.3 percent from the field. He showed a tiny bit of improvement in 2003 but by that point, the Celtics decided to dump him onto the Cavs and later the 76ers to leave after just four seasons. Considering how this was a class that produced Tony Parker among several others, the choice to grab Brown was a huge missed opportunity for Boston and despite all their championships, even they are prone to screwing it up on draft day.
28 Brooklyn Nets: Dennis Hopson
The Nets have long had a history of bad deal-making. This was the team that had Julius Erving as a star but then traded him for cash to the 76ers, costing them a championship and a major Hall of Famer. Since then, the Nets have made a lot of bad calls from trades and drafts, whether in New Jersey or Brooklyn and thus have spent a lot of their existence in mediocrity. A standout in high school, Hopson was soon averaging 35 points at Ohio State and the school’s all-time leader in points and steals. Thus, the Nets had high hopes nabbing him at #3 in 1987. While he led the team in points in his third season, Hopson overall wasn't anywhere near the top player they wanted him to be. Instead, they dropped him to the Bulls who traded him off just before their first championship season. It’s yet another ranking in the bad moves the Nets made that have cost them.
27 Charlotte Hornets: Adam Morrison
On the surface of it, this might be a strange choice. How can a man with two NBA Championship rings be cited as a draft letdown? Well, given the excellent potential Morrison showed in college, his failure to become an All-Star in the NBA is pretty big. There’s also how Morrison was the first man picked by new manager of operations Michael Jordan and had a good start. But it faltered and his shooting got worse and worse. In his second season, he suffered a severe knee injury and required surgery, putting him out for the entire year. In 2009, he and Shannon Brown were traded to the Lakers where Morrison was part of their back to back championship seasons.
However, he himself saw very little playing time so it was more just being in the right place at the right time. He signed with the Wizards but eventually done by 2012. For all his promise, Morrison never paid off and has to rank as an early bad move for Jordan’s tenure.
26 Chicago Bulls: Marcus Fizer
In 2000, the Bulls were doing their best to recover from the epic collapse of the dynasty due to the loss of Jordan, Pippen, Jackson and so many others. Fizer looked to be just what they needed. At Iowa State, he was an All-American putting up terrific numbers. He had played for Tim Floyd who seemed to be the only one to say he was the right choice. The Bulls nabbed him with the fourth pick. Rumors had it that the Bulls had hoped to trade him for someone else but it never happened and he stayed with them for four seasons. During that time, he never averaged more than 12 points a game and tore his ACL in 2003.
He was later with the Bucks and briefly with the SuperSonics but faded away. In 289 games, he averaged just 9 points and was more famous for having over 30 tattoos, which made more of a mark than his play ever did.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett
Born and raised in Toronto, Bennett proved himself at UNLV, shooting 53 percent from the field and almost 30 points a game. Thanks to his great play, the Cavs reached the NCAA tournament. With scouts so eager, Bennett went right into the draft, forgoing another three years in college and becoming the first Canadian player to be drafted number one. The Cavs thought he would be a notable pick and he was…in that it took 33 games for him to record a double-figure scoring game. By this point, many were calling Bennett one of the worst number one picks of all time and his play was a total disaster.
Injuries took their toll as he was traded to the Timberwolves, Raptors and is currently playing with the Nets. More than one person has said Bennett would have been better off staying in college for another year or two rather than be one of the biggest wastes of a number one pick ever.
24 Dallas Mavericks: Samaki Walker
Some would say Leon Smith deserves a spot but technically, he was drafted by the Spurs who then traded him right to Dallas. No, the most disappointing straight-up pick by the Mavericks would be Walker. At the time, Dallas was building off “The Three J’s” (Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn) and figured Walker would be the right guy to back them up. He never scored higher than 8 points in a single game in three seasons with Dallas, more notable for his all-white outfit than anything he did on the court.
Walker would be traded to the Lakers and would have limited playing time despite being part of their championship squad of 2002. He made a real impact with his controversial buzzer-beater in the Western Conference Finals that pushed the NBA to embrace instant replay. Later with the Pacers, Walker finished his career with various European teams.
23 Denver Nuggets: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Anyone standing seven feet tall is automatically seen as highly promising by NBA scouts. Tskitishvili would prove that not every foreign player is capable of pulling off that promise. After playing in Italy, Tskitishvili would be drafted by the Nuggets with the fifth pick in the first round. In three seasons, he would average just 3 points and 2 rebounds while shooting 30 percent from the field. Columnists and basketball experts have joined in slamming him as one of the worst foreign players ever chosen so high and was a huge bust in the draft lottery.
He was traded to the Warriors and later played for the Timberwolves and showcased the risk of choosing a guy just based on height rather than the skills to back it up on the court.
22 Detroit Pistons: Darko Milicic
As if it could be anyone else. The 2003 Draft had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. But with the second pick, the Pistons ignored all those for an 18-year-old Serbian with just decent numbers abroad. While he was part of the Pistons team that won the NBA championship in 2004, Milicic averaged just two points a game, and his playing time was limited. There was promise for him to get more playing time but when the Pistons changed coaches, Milicic only got the time in blowouts (wins and losses) and didn’t show much skill there.
From there, he was bouncing around to the Magic, the Grizzlies, Timberwolves and finally the Celtics. Despite the fact he has a championship ring, Milicic still ranks high in talks of the greatest draft busts in history and proved why the “foreign player” market was such a risky one.
21 Golden State Warriors: Chris Washburn
The warning signs were all there. During his college tenure, Washburn had put up some very good numbers but also had incidents like being arrested for stealing a stereo and the revelation his SAT score was under 500. Even with his good play at N.C. State, there were concerns but the Warriors still grabbed him at #3 of the 1986 draft. While he had flashes now and then, Washburn was cited for poor play and a horrible attitude, not showing up for practices. He was also into drug use and a knee injury just added to his addictions to drag him down.
He checked into rehab but it didn’t do much go as he would be banned in 1989 after failing a third drug test. That 1986 class (highlighted by Len Bias) has been slammed for being a “Cocaine year” and sadly Washburn showed how harsh that drug could hurt a promising player.
20 Houston Rockets: Eddie Griffin
His story is a sad one and seen today as a warning for any young player. At Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Griffin was amazing, named Player of the Year and showcasing a fantastic skill for his age. However, a fight with a teammate meant he had to finish his senior year by correspondence course. He also got into fights at Seton Hall which made him a risk but the Rockets still traded to get him from the Nets on draft day 2001.
He averaged 8 points a game with Houston, showing the nice promise and looked ready for more. But his hard-partying ways caught up to him, earning him suspensions and trips to rehab, including missing a whole season. Eventually, he was traded to the Timberwolves where he again played poorly and fought his demons. Griffin was killed in a car crash in 2007 with the autopsy showing he was three times over the legal limit. He stands as the classic example of how dangerous youth and money can be in the NBA.
19 Indiana Pacers: Rick Robey
In Kentucky, Robey was part one of the best college basketball teams of the time. The Wildcats were NCAA Champions in 1978 and runners-up in ’75. His fantastic performance has led to his jersey being retired at the school and thus high hopes when the Pacers drafted him in 1978 as the third overall pick. However, his numbers weren’t that impressive and the Pacers would end up trading him to the Celtics. There, Robey had just okay numbers and while part of the Celtics team that won the 1981 title, his contributions were limited.
Robey is better remembered for the trade to Phoenix for Dennis Johnson. His pro numbers aren’t as bad as others on this list but given his amazing college career, the fact he lasted barely a year with the Pacers before they gave him away ranks him as one of the most disappointing picks for such a high draft number.
18 Los Angeles Clippers: Michael Olowokandi
Born in Nigeria, Olowokandi would famously pick the University of the Pacific simply because they were the first school he spotted in a brochure. He averaged 22 points and led the school to the NCAA tournament and his jersey retired by them, making him a must-grab for the 1998 NBA Draft. Drafted at number one by the Clippers, he showcased a poor understanding of play that was surprising for a college vet but showcased his inexperience with American basketball.
He averaged just eight points and six rebounds despite starting 80 percent of his games. Traded to the Timberwolves, he finished his career with the Celtics, where he was still rather underwhelming. The fact this was a class including Vince Carter and Rashad Lewis, Olowokandi sadly ranks as among the more disappointing number one picks of all time.
17 Los Angeles Lakers: Kermit Washington
Washington’s career can best be summed up as “fair but not that good.” At Coolidge, he was a good player, averaging almost 20 points a game and as many rebounds. He was selected at number five in the first round of the 1973 draft by the Lakers, who hoped he would be a good component to their offense. However, Washington struggled from the start adjusting to pro basketball and admitted he was intimidated by coach Jerry West which affected his performance. A back injury also saddled him further and the Lakers began putting their focus on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would leave Washington hanging.
Sadly, Washington is far more famous for his epic punch of Rudy Tomjanovich that nearly destroyed the latter’s face. Washington was pretty much persona non grata in the NBA after that, bouncing through various teams before retiring in 1985. While not as terrible as others on the list, given this was a prime Lakers team, Washington is saddled with a hard legacy thanks to that infamous fight.
16 Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet
In a class that included Steph Curry and James Harden, the Grizzlies had a lot of great potential with their number 2 pick in the 2009 draft. Instead, they wasted it on Thabeet, a good player in college cracking the thousand point mark and leading UConn to the Final Four. Sadly, Thabeet could never quite transition into the pros as well, his poor skill in practice landing him in D-Ball for a while. He started just 13 games in two seasons before being traded to the Rockets for a first-round pick. He later went to the Trail Blazers, Thunder, 76ers and Pistons with abysmal numbers for all.
Like many picks on this list, he’s more famous for the guys his team could have grabbed instead and is one of the bigger wastes of a number two spot in draft history.
15 Miami Heat: Michael Beasley
At Kansas State, Beasley began getting rave reviews for one of the best freshman players in the country. With 26 points and 12 rebounds a game, he led the NCAA and amassed a total of 866 points. He also shattered double-doubles records, including those set by Carmelo Anthony. With such a huge career ahead, Beasley leaped immediately for the draft and was chosen second in 2008 by the Heat. Despite suffering a chest injury during a team practice, Beasley scored great in the preseason and the anticipation was high that the next superstar was on his way.
While his play was good, it wasn’t that great and worse were the reports of Beasley being fined constantly for violating team policies. He was traded to the Timberwolves to clear the cap needed for the Heat to sign LeBron James and while Beasley did enjoy a great 42-point game, a foot injury sent his career on a downslide. Now with the Bucks, Beasley showed how a great freshman doesn’t always make a top NBA star.
14 Milwaukee Bucks: Kent Benson
When your entire career is best summed up by a single fight, that’s a clear sign you’re a disappointment. At Indiana University, Benson was coached by Bobby Knight and excelled, helping the Hoosiers to an undefeated Conference record and winning the 1976 national championship. Going at number one in the draft, Benson was snatched up by the Bucks who thought he could lead them to the championship glory they’d lost when they traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar years before. His very first game was against the Lakers as Benson hit an elbow on Abdul-Jabbar. He retaliated with a punch that shattered Benson’s jaw and put him out for two months.
Benson was never the same after that, averaging nine points a game in 11 seasons. He was traded to the Pistons who in turn traded him to the Jazz and he finished up with the Cavs. Many wonder if not for that punch, whether Benson could have been a champion but he sadly ranks as among the bigger draft letdowns ever.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves: Christian Laettner
To many, Laettner summed up the Duke Blue Devils, for better and worse. A truly amazing player, he hit the game-winning shot over Kentucky in 1992 that earned him the hate of Kentucky fans. Indeed, ESPN did a “30 For 30” documentary on him titled “I Hate Christian Laettner” to showcase how much he could rile folks up. But as a man who won back to back national championships and a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, he was a must-grab for the NBA. The Timberwolves must have thought they had the next mega-star when they nabbed him third in 1992. While his numbers were good, including an All-Star game, Laettner was known for his rough attitude that did not make him popular. Over his career, he played for six different teams, none for more than three seasons and was also accused of drug use that earned him a suspension. For all his amazing potential, he never paid off and showed how he could be his own worst enemy in the end.
12 New Orleans Pelicans: Kirk Haston
They haven’t been around as long as other teams so the Pelicans don’t have the longer history marked with major misses. But Haston has to count as their biggest so far, even though he technically was drafted during the Pelicans’ days as the original Charlotte Hornets. At Perry County High School, Haston was part of the team that went 37-0 and won the state championship. At Indiana, he played under Bobby Knight, leading the Big Ten in scoring and hit a winning shot over Michigan. Entering the 2001 draft, Haston was picked by the Hornets/Pelicans with some hopes he would be a good zone breaker. Instead, he averaged barely two points a game, a rebound and no steals. He would last just two seasons before being dropped and no matter what name they have, the Pelicans have to rank him as their biggest draft bust.
11 New York Knicks: Charlie Ward
The signs should have been obvious. Ward had been one of the standout football players at Florida State, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading FSU to the national championship in 1993. Ward really was an all-around guy as he played tennis, baseball, and basketball (where he set the school record for steals) but football was his passion and most expected him to go high in the NFL draft. Instead, Ward shocked everyone by going to the NBA, thus becoming the only Heisman winner to play pro basketball. Grabbed at number 26, the Knicks felt he was “the point guard of the future” and did their best to push him.
While he led the Knicks to the Finals in one season, he was cited as a poor fit due to his size, later traded to the Spurs and then ended his career with the Rockets. Retiring due to injuries, many still think Ward should have been an NFL player as basketball wasn’t his true strength.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder: Cole Aldrich
Here we have another technicaity as Aldrich was actually selected first by the New Orleans Hornets who then traded him to the Thunder. It seemed a good bet as Aldrich had shown improvement in his time at Kansas, part of the national championship team of 2008 and looked to be sensational on rebounds. Thus, Oklahoma City thought they had the perfect guy to help build them into a championship team. It took just a few practices for them to send him right to D-league to try and improve his game. He was called back up in December of 2010 where he averaged barely two rebounds and fewer points. Just two weeks later, he was sent back to D-league and was soon bouncing between them and the main team, failing to achieve any real potential despite the promise.
He was traded to the Rockets who then traded him to the King. After multiple stops he ended up in Minnesota.
9 Orlando Magic: Michael Doleac
At the University of Utah, Doleac had been the big man for a team that reached the NCAA National Championship game, losing in Doleac’s hometown of San Antonio. He was among the team’s best scorers and thus the Magic thought they got something good taking him number 12 in the 1998 draft. However, Doleac didn’t live up to any of that potential, his numbers quite low and the Magic suffering a bit under him. After just three seasons, he was traded to the Cavs, then the Knicks and the Nuggets. He spent three seasons with the Heat where he was part of the team that won the 2006 title but his contributions were rather low.
Retiring a Timberwolf, he wasn’t a total bust but just not as good as he could have been and showing Orlando rarely has real magic in the draft.
8 Philadelphia 76ers: Shawn Bradley
Any list of the greatest draft disappointments has to include “the Stormin’ Mormon.” One of the most successful basketball players in Utah high school history, he later went to BYU and set national records in blocks and fantastic with his height and power. When he entered the 1993 draft, the 76ers nabbed him second, right behind Chris Weber and ignored the talk of his weight being a factor. While he would do some good blocking, Bradley was an inconsistent scorer and just as he was showing improvement, the 76ers traded him to the Nets.
Again, he was disappointing and later went to the Mavericks where he continued to show a baffling mix of great blocking and terrible scoring to rank him as a disappointing figure overall. While a nice guy off the court, Bradley just wasn’t worth such a top spot in the end.
7 Phoenix Suns: William Bedford
The 1986 draft class is always overshadowed by the tragic death of Len Bias, the top guy who died of a drug overdose just two days after being drafted by the Celtics. It showed how pervasive drug use was at the time. Bedford is another case of a good player who earned All-American honors at Memphis State and thus the Suns seemed happy to get him at number six.
In his career, Bedford only scored an average of four points a game and was constantly accused of drug abuse that led to suspensions. He bounced around, winning a championship with the Pistons but his contributions were low while his play slipped more with the Spurs. Later arrested for drug possession, Bedford showed how the addictions of the time led to the downfall of many a promising athlete, especially for the Suns.
6 Portland Trail Blazers: Sam Bowie
It may be the single greatest draft blunder in NBA history. As the 1984 draft came close, teams were eager to grab some of the major college stars coming up like Charles Barkley and John Stockton. The Houston Rockets were no.1 and had already settled on Hakeem Olajuwon, who would be a great pick. Portland was second and could have grabbed a number of major stars to aid them. They settled on Sam Bowie, a good player but known for some knee injuries that slowed down. That allowed the Chicago Bulls to use the number three pick on…Michael Jordan.
Thanks to grabbing Bowie, the Trail Blazers missed the chance to have the greatest star in NBA history on their side and all the titles he would bring. Bowie’s career was decent but hampered by more injuries and sadly, he's more famous for how he represents such a total misfire by Portland. It’s one of the biggest missed opportunities in sports history and thus has to rank high on any list of draft busts.
5 Sacramento Kings: Pervis Ellison
The man who inspired more nicknames than actual good playing results, Ellison was nicknamed “Never Nervous Pervis” for his amazingly cool play at Louisville. Scoring 2000 points and a thousand rebounds, Ellison led Louisville to the National Championship and named Most Outstanding Player as a freshman. He entered the 1989 draft at number one and the Kings were overjoyed to get their hands on him, expecting him to turn them into playoff contenders. Instead, an injury kept him out for nearly all of his rookie season, at which point, the Kings decided to offload him to Washington.
There, injuries plagued Pervis constantly, leading to his more famous nickname of “Out of Service Pervis.” He played just 69 games in six seasons with the Celtics. After another trade, he ended his career after just three games in Seattle. Rarely has such a promising man hit such terrible luck in injuries.
4 San Antonio Spurs: Dwayne Schintzius
The Spurs seem to have a bizarre gift every other NBA team envies. They just somehow never seem to come up with a pure loser in their drafts. With their good records over the years (including championships), San Antonio is used to picking late into the draft after the real big stars are taken. Thus, most of their picks aren’t given much attention and thus aren't seen as much of a disappointment. However, Schintzius should count as the 7’2” center was picked 24th in 1990, just before the team really took off. At Florida, he led the Gators to the NCAA tournament three times and led them in scoring. However, he had a falling out with his coach and entered the draft.
His play was rough, barely averaging five points a game and was marred by both injuries and attitude problems. He would be sent to the Kings and later the Celtics, his career never rising as it could have.
3 Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
A good player in Europe, Bargnani had major promise with a surprising mobility for a seven-footer and ball-handling skills. He was picked first by the Raptors in 2006 and soon gained popularity, complete with his own action figure for Toronto fans. Sadly, his on-court skills never quite equaled his promise and an emergency appendix surgery affected him. Despite showing some flashes, Bargnani struggled although Raptors management was intent on helping him improve. For every good game where he could score 30 points, Bargnani had a terrible one that showed him as a slow and plodding guy who failed to capitalize on his strengths.
Traded to the Knicks and later playing for the Nets, Bargnani is back in Europe and showcased how popularity doesn’t always make a pick the right one.
2 Utah Jazz: Jose Ortiz
Born in Puerto Rico, Ortiz was nicknamed “the Concorde” for his great leaping skills while playing basketball. He was soon showcasing himself in international basketball, leading his team to titles and leading his leagues in scoring. He averaged almost 20 points at Oregon State and named PAC-10 Player of the Year. Drafted at number 15 by the Jazz in 1987, Ortiz accepted an offer to play for a year in Spain. He returned in 1988 but averaged just 2.8 points a game, seeming to have issues with playing in the U.S.
Ortiz just lasted a couple of seasons before heading to Real Madrid where he blossomed into a good player. He became more notable for being part of the Greece Olympic team that beat the U.S. for the gold in the 2004 Summer Games. Later arrested for drug use, Ortiz showed just how some foreign players don’t translate well to the NBA.
1 Washington Wizards: Kwame Brown
Among a high school class that included Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, Brown was cited as the best bet. He was the all-time rebounder and scorer in the history of Flynn Academy and NCAA scouts were eager to land him for their school. Instead, he bypassed college for the NBA and was grabbed first by the Washington Wizards under Michael Jordan. Brown told coach Doug Collins “you draft me and you’ll never regret it.” Collins now regrets it. In his rookie year, Brown averaged five points a game, was way too raw and even though he showed some improvement he was hampered by injuries and just not as spectacular as promised and not helped by his fighting with coaches and Gilbert Arenas.
He was traded to the Lakers where he again showed promised but ended up being lackluster. Since then, Brown has bounced around various teams, often dumped before he played a single game and showcased a prime reason so many high school stars weren’t ready for the NBA.
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